Dry land training for sled dogs

Written by lindahayes
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Dry land training for sled dogs
Siberian huskies are a popular breed used in dryland training. (husky image by Aleksander from Fotolia.com)

Dog sledding has become a popular pastime for recreation and competition in northern climates. Dryland training, where a dog or team in harness pulls a vehicle on dirt or pavement, is a way to keep going even after the snow melts. Dryland training also introduces dogs to the sport of sledding or keeps them in shape throughout the year. Dryland training is an activity for dogs who love to ru, and people who love to run with them.

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Types of Dry land Training

The forms of dryland training are distinguished by the vehicles the dogs pull: Bike-joring is when a dog or team pulls a bicycle.
Scooter, or scooter-joring, involves one or two dogs pulling a two-wheeled unmotorized vehicle, while the driver rides, pushes or runs alongside. In canicross, a dog is harnessed directly to a runner; the dog's object is to help the person run faster without pulling her off her feet. Carting uses three- or four-wheeled vehicles, known as carts, gigs or rigs, pulled by teams of up to six or eight dogs.

Equipment

The most important piece of equipment is a proper harness made specially for the sport. X-back harnesses do not restrict the dog's shoulders or chest. Sled dog equipment outfitters help fit a dog with a harness. The typical harness in pet stores is made for walking, not pulling, and should not be used for dryland training.

Other equipment includes: A tugline attached to the harness connects a dog to a person or vehicle. With multiple dogs, the tugline attaches to a gigline or dogline. A neckline links pairs of dogs to keep them running together. A shock cord runs between the gigline and the vehicle for shock absorbtion. Dogs may need bootees if running on pavement.

For canicross, the runner wears a special harness that attaches to the tugline and allows him to run hands-free. For bikejoring, a mountain bike with knobby tires and good brakes is essential for trail riding. Scooters are generally less expensive than mountain bikes. They vary in size and weight; off-road scooters work for trails. Lighter models are better for one or two dogs, while heavier models make it easier to control a team. Carts, homemade or manufactured, vary in size, weight, design, type and tire size, suspension system and brakes. Some carts are literally sleds on wheels, while others resemble three-wheeled chariots or tricycles. Trainers need helmets and eye protection for bikejoring, scooters or carts.

Goals

Dryland training introduces dogs to the sport of dog sledding. Dogs learn how to pull in a harness, as well as the basic commands for starting, stopping, turning and continuing past distractions.

Dry land training usually starts in the fall, when temperatures are cool enough for thick-furred dogs. Once the dogs master the basics of pulling as a team, the goal is to build speed and stamina. Sled dogs generally start training with lighter weights and work up to heavier weights for longer distances. Dryland training also enables the drivers, or mushers, to practice with the team and try out different combinations of dogs. Because the dogs respond to verbal commands, good rapport between team and trainer is essential to running the team.

Beginning Dryland Training

As the International Sled Dog Racing Association points out, sled dogs are born and raised to run, and training can harness those natural impulses. While serious training for weight and distance shouldn't start until dogs are at least 1 year old, puppies as young as 6 months can start becoming accustomed to wearing a harness, learning how to pull and learning basic commands.

The musher also needs time to become acquainted with her choice of training method and vehicle. For bikejoring or scooter, beginners may want a human partner playing the role of a canine until the musher learns how to control a bike or scooter while maintaining a constant pull on the tugline, especially while traversing rough ground or going up or down hills.
Dryland training, while not confined to snow, is still weather dependent; the American Dryland Musher's Association recommends against running thick-coated dogs, such as huskies, in temperatures above 12.8 degrees C for their safety and comfort.

Racing

Dryland dog races have become increasingly popular. The racing season is longer than for traditional dog sledding, and the races don't depend on a supply of snow that unreliable due to climate changes. While traditional dog sled races can be lengthy endurance contests---the best-known being Alaska's 1,161-mile Iditarod---dryland races are generally shorter, usually only a few miles. The largest dryland competition in North America, the East Meets West Dryland Championships sponsored by the International Sled Dog Racing Association, has races as short as 0.6 miles for canicross, up to 3 miles in the Rig category.

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